Criminalizing Nonviolent Protest

day_of_outrageOur freedoms are at risk. Over the last 20 years, there has been a systematic reduction of our ability to peacefully express our concerns about certain topics. This is not a 3rd-World issue. This is not a North American issue. It isn’t an Asian or even Russian issue, either. The problem is global. It is prevalent in whatever arena one looks in which one wishes to dissent.

Since I’m in Japan, I’ll mention the evidence of this that hits most close to home: In the years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster transpired on March 11, 2011, the Japanese government passed a law, called the Act on Protection of Specified Secrets, that essentially gives the government carte blanche on defining what is considered to be a defense-related “special secret”. Essentially, bureaucrats and politicians can designate state secrets to their liking. The intention, of course, is to induce the Chilling Effect and reduce incidence of dissenting free speech. With a seemingly arbitrary risk of incarceration in case one speaks out against the government and/or its actions, individuals face very real risk when discussing matters of grave importance.

For Japan, the act seems to have been one of convenience with regard to silencing the NHK news corporation of its public criticisms of Abe’s government over its continued mishandling of the Fukushima nuclear incident aftermath. With the new law, any politician or bureaucrat can designate a particular topic as sensitive, bringing with it swift legal recourse. The risk to news outlets, bloggers and even individuals cannot be underestimated.

In North America, the driving force has been business. In the post-9/11 era, terrorism is the ultimate buzzword that is used to extinguish all manner of peaceful activism. Whether you’re campaigning for honesty in food labeling for GMO-containing products, protesting against an oil pipeline being routed through sensitive biospheres, or even campaigning to prevent cruel mistreatment of animals, you’re likely to be labelled a terrorist and an enemy of, if not the state, society in general.

Activism has always been a risky pastime. If you attend a Greenpeace rally, your photograph will be taken and stored as evidence against you. If you attend a rally to protest the banning of raw milk, you’ll be added to a list of malcontents to be watched. (If you happen to run a private co-op that shares raw milk among its members, prepare for a SWAT team to arrive. Alas, I digress.) If you demand parental informed consent with regard to childhood vaccinations being administered in schools, you’ll be labelled.

Terrorism, eco- or otherwise, should only be a term that is applied to individuals or organizations who engage in violence. Unfortunately, the term is liberally applied to anybody who happens to disagree with business as usual. Don’t want that pipeline? You’re an eco-terrorist. Don’t want that mine to operate in your area? How about being unhappy about fracking? You’re an eco-terrorist.

Along with these labels can come real risk. If you’ve ever flown internationally and been subjected to rigorous security checks time after time after time, you know of which I speak. On the light end of the scale comes inconvenience. A bit deeper in and you get some real annoyances that can get in the way of freedoms. At the nasty end of the spectrum, one can be incarcerated and have little way out in the process.

Governments are afraid of free speech, regardless of the standards upon which constitutional documents may have been based. Free speech ultimately means free information, and an informed population is one that is difficult or even impossible to control. Egypt ran into this situation in early 2011 and it pulled off the unprecedented act of shutting down the entire country’s internet. It failed, but the attempt was a clear signal that governments will stop at nothing to retain their hold on power.

Personally, I view the criminalization of peaceful, nonviolent protest and reporting to be unconscionable and indefensible. We live in a world where we should feel easy about speaking our truth. If I want to espouse the virtues of hugging trees or keeping a pipeline out of sensitive wildlife areas, I should not have the stigma of terrorism attached. Nobody should.

We’re in a time when ad hominem attack is the norm. Instead of debating ideas, it is now customary to attack those who embrace ideals that run counter to our own. This is a trend that I find disturbing, but I steadfastly cling to the ideal that real communication is based on the ability to disagree. Sustainable societies are built upon the free exchange of ideas, information and knowledge. We need to ensure that freedom of speech isn’t just a nifty catchphrase.


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Fighting To Keep You In The Dark

List of corporations for and against the I-522 Right To Know campaign

Corporations for and against GMO disclosure to the public – Click the image for a full view

I’m making this article’s graphic a little bit larger than usual because of how important I consider it to be.  I think it’s important not so much because of who was supporting Washington Initiative 522 (2012), but rather who wasn’t supporting it. If you want a real eye-opener with regard to who is financially supporting the effort to block GMO labelling on foods, the GMA members listing (lower left) is worth a good look. Click the graphic. I think you’ll be surprised. I was.

Actually, no. I wasn’t so much surprised as I was mortified. Cascadian Farm Organic? LäraBar? Dagoba? I’ve eaten a lot of their products. It’s worth noting their parent companies (written in white), which gives you the bigger picture. As is so often the case these days, you have to follow the money to know a company’s real agenda. How organic is organic? Apparently, the word organic is only as meaningful as its parent company wants it to be.

I can’t think of a single valid reason for justifying the non-labelling of products containing GMOs. Consumers rightfully expect full disclosure of nutritional information. Why, then, would we allow our food producers to hide the fact that our foods may contain GMOs? If we don’t know, how can we make informed decisions? (We can’t.)

If we look back to California Proposition 37 (2012), which was pretty much the California equivalent of Washington’s I-522, the money involved with defeating the proposition was amazing. In defeating Prop 37, Monsanto spent $8,112,867. That’s a lot of money invested in keeping the public ignorant.

In their effort to defeat I-522, the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association spent an incredible $11 million in total to ensure food labelling continues to deceive consumers. The total contributions to defeat I-522 amounted to a whopping $46 million.

$46,000,000 Buys A Lot Of Ignorance

So far, initiatives for honest labelling have been defeated twice. It’s important to understand the mechanisms at work here. This isn’t about government doing its part to ensure that you have all the information you need to make informed decisions. This is about big business doing everything in its power to ensure that you remain blissfully ignorant of what said business is producing so that you continue buying its products no matter what.

If you’re not a fan of GMOs, deceptive labelling ensures that you have very little opportunity of determining whether or not a particular product contains GMOs. Intentionally withholding information is the ethical equivalent of lying. When our governments acquiesce to business interests in a scheme to keep consumers in the dark, we have a serious problem.

Nobody has the right to keep people ignorant. Demand the truth. Demand the Right to Know.

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Practising What I Preach

the_power_of_intentionHere’s wishing you all a wonderful celebration of the season, in whatever form that appeals to you. Whether you’re all about Santa leaving things under the tree, embracing Yule, focused on the Winter Solstice or some other celebration during this time of the year, I hope it has been and will be wonderful.

I’ve been very much caught up in looking at where I’ve been and where I’m going. The year has been an interesting one of contrasting experiences for me. On one hand, I’ve seen my business interests keeping me very, very busy. On the other, I’ve also found myself facing some health challenges. The latter brought with it some stress, but also an opportunity to fully embrace and implement the choices and actions described throughout the Living Intentionally articles. It’s been a learning experience and a most valuable one.

Visitors to the site will have noticed that as the early year progressed, my posts slowed and, as of August, eventually stopped outright. This lack of article output neatly coincided with me ultimately becoming swamped with work in other business areas. As many business consultant/owners know well, that being swamped brought with it a spiral of rushed diet and lifestyle choices. As time went on, I found myself mostly eating at restaurants between client visits, working from early in the morning to late at night and not quite getting enough sleep. When I was sleeping, it wasn’t at optimal hours. Longtime readers here will already see what’s coming: If one’s lifestyle choices become chronically ‘bad’, it’s only a matter of time before one’s health falters. Mine did.

Photo of some growth on my face

What is that?

One morning, I was shaving and happened to finally see something under my eye. Obviously, it had been there for a while — it wasn’t exactly tiny — yet it was the first time I’d even noticed it such was my usual state of haste over the preceding months. It was only because I’d noticed my skin was dry that I looked more closely and saw what appeared to be a melanoma. The mottled coloration was a concern. It definitely wasn’t a pimple. Was it cancer? My stomach sank as I began replaying my diet and lifestyle over the prior six months.

I’d done pretty much everything wrong and had become a poster child of the very lifestyle and diet choices about which this site warns people to avoid. The irony did not escape me. Rather than panic about it, however, I realized that this was a fantastic opportunity to see how powerful one’s intentional living (pardon the pun) could really be. When push came to shove, would one’s immediate diet and lifestyle differences honestly make a difference? Would my ‘teachings’ stand up to a real-world situation?

The above photo was taken on September 23, 2013. I decided to give myself till November 3rd, my 52nd birthday, to get this business under control. The challenge was to take all of my own advice to see whether it would put my health in order. Either I would see immediate results or I would sign up for tests and any conventional treatment. A lot was at stake here. Not only was my health and well-being in question, but my entire health-related belief system was up for grabs. Either I would support what I have come to believe over all these years or my beliefs would fall like a house of cards. I was genuinely curious to see what the answer would be.

Reduction of possible melanoma

Things are looking better!

I immediately began taking my supplements, especially focusing on high intake of Vitamin C and Vitamin D. On the ‘C’ front, I took 3 grams twice daily for a total of 6 grams of Vitamin C. To complement the C intake, I balanced that with 400 i.u. of Vitamin E thrice daily for a total of 1200 i.u. On the Vitamin D front, I blasted myself with 8,000 i.u. daily. I took a whole lot of other supplements at regular doses, too. If anybody wants the full Monty, just let me know in the comments and I’ll specify the regimen in full.

By October 13, there was a marked improvement. Whatever that thing was on my cheek, it was getting smaller and the colour of my skin was returning to normal. As well, my energy levels were way up. I was getting a proper amount of sleep again and at the appropriate times. All in all, I was feeling healthier than I had in a long, long time. At this rate, a trip to the doctor on my birthday would no longer be warranted.

Of course, Living Intentionally articles have long espoused exercise as a vital component of a complete health plan. Over the previous year, my exercise pattern had fallen from regular to nonexistent. I had inadvertently become totally work-driven and was not addressing my body’s need for regular exercise. In October, I made a conscious effort to change that, joining an exercise-oriented social network called Runtastic. The site has various exercise-related smartphone apps for running, walking, cycling and strength training.

From October onward, Facebook friends were privy to my progress doing squats, pushups, running and walking. Over October and November, for example, I found myself running and walking over 400 km, burning some 12,000+ kcal in the process. Hundreds of pushups and squats contributed to my core strength. I cooked for myself, eating all the foods I knew I should be eating. Slept when I knew I should be sleeping. I got sunshine and darkness to optimize my seratonin/melatonin cycle. I healed.

Healthful, home-cooked food

Good food is the cornerstone of good health

And so my birthday came and went. My skin was looking younger and that thing on my face had pretty much disappeared. I decided to skip the doctor visit and keep on with my game plan of proving that diet, lifestyle and beliefs can change the outcome of one’s experience. It has proven to be wonderful. I’m so unimaginably grateful for having had the opportunity to prove to myself that this is all the real deal. I feel good. Really good. I can skip out and run 20km at the merest whim. A hundred pushups isn’t impossible. Squats and other core training is a regular feature of my life. Yeah, I feel good.

Healthy looking skin now

No sign of the offender!

Aside from the merest hint of coloration, the skin that once hosted a growth has healed. I’ve promised myself that I’ll continue on with my regimen of good diet and lifestyle choices regardless of how busy my work life becomes. There’s no justification for putting work first. Without good health, good work is impossible. Without good health, little else of life can be positive.

This year has been a brilliant self-example of just how powerful our thoughts and actions can be. I could not have imagined a better proof of the power of taking responsibility for my well-being. In forgoing panic and just taking the steps to rectify my health, every aspect of my life has improved over the last few months. I’ll be carrying that thought forward with me into 2014.

May you all carry with you such wonder and excitement in the coming year. Happy New Year from Living Intentionally to you.

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Fukushima Aftermath: Are Things As Bad As ‘They’ Say?

images“WOW! You are really unintelligent. When the cancer rates start skyrocketing in a few years (which they have already started to do in the U.S. right after the Fukushima disaster) and the entire Pacific Ocean is radiated (which will be in less than 6 year) maybe you will panic then. You are a typical ignorant sheep and know really nothing about the seriousness of the Fukushima situation. Please educate yourself.”
  — The Flamingo Kid, in a comment from Kelp, Radiation and Panic in North America

There’s a lot of bad science out there. And in lieu of bad science, there’s just a lot of misinformation. This article is going to attempt to spell out some of the key points in how Fukushima has turned out to be worse than we’d hoped and yet far less dangerous than many doomsday articles would have you believe. SPOILER: You’re still more likely to die from poor diet and lifestyle choices than by any problem created by Fukushima thus far. Not only is that fact for residents of North America, but it’s also fact for residents of most of Japan, who have experienced much more direct exposure through food and environment.

Much of the fear of radiation from Fukushima is now related to the leaks of contaminated water from the reactors, spent fuel pools and even contaminated groundwater into the ocean. These concerns are valid and caesium levels in the Pacific are increasing somewhat over time, but the concerns have been dramatically blown out of proportion. One of the claims is that a huge plume of caesium-137 has left the Japan coast and is going to ‘fry’ the North American Pacific coastline with radiation from 2014 to 2016. This is patently false. Anybody who knows anything about the ocean currents around Japan knows about the Kuroshio Current (1) and the Kuroshio Extension (2). See the graphic below.

Japanese Ocean Currents

Japanese Ocean Currents (credit: Wikipedia)


The Oyashio Current (7) interacts with the Kuroshio Extension to create an eddying effect that helps disperse any particles released by Fukushima. Much of this dispersion of heavy particles happens even before the Kuroshio Extension picks up the particles and carry them off into the greater North Pacific Ocean Gyre. Unfortunately, Caesium-137 isn’t all that heavy, so it can be picked up and carried by the currents. That said, it’s only carried to a point. Moreover, it only moves so quickly. Due to the characteristics of the Kuroshio currents and how they interact with the broader gyre currents, it only takes about 4 months for much of the caesium to disperse to well below WHO safe limits.

North Pacific Gyre (credit: Wikipedia)

North Pacific Gyre (credit: Wikipedia)

For what it’s worth, the North Pacific Gyre covers some 20 million square kilometres. That involves a lot of water. A lot of it. During the northern arch across the gyre, there is significant mixing between the warmer waters of the convergence zone with the cooler, faster flowing current along the northern edge. By the time our intrepid caesium particles have reached North America, little of the payload remains. Much of the initial contaminant has mixed with the Pacific waters and dispersed throughout the ocean on the journey eastward. At the end of the day, the overall caesium levels are going up, but by minuscule degrees.

I’ve seen scary numbers about the amount of radiation released by Fukushima. Back in August, shortly after new leaks were reported, it was stated that some 20 trillion Becquerels of radiation had been released. Once you get into numbers that high, it’s difficult for the average person to put it into any meaningful context. So, let’s do that. A banana has an average of ~15 Becquerels worth of radiation due to its potassium content. So, that would mean that by August 2013, Fukushima would have released approximately 76 million bananas worth of radiation into the environment. That sounds like a lot, and (truthfully) it is, but consider this: Every year, we globally produce ~100 million tonnes of bananas. We happily produce, and eat, far more bananas per year than Fukushima has released in equivalent radiation since 2011.

So, yeah. It’s bad, but it’s not Armageddon.

The situation at Fukushima is not good. TEPCO is embarking on an unprecedented journey to try and get this disaster under control and it’s facing a very steep challenge due to the unprecedented nature of the task being undertaken. Nobody has ever had to remove thousands of spent fuel rods from a damaged coolant pool before. Nobody has had to deal with a spent fuel pool that could crumble at the next violent temblor. The clock is ticking and the longer things remain unresolved, the greater the likelihood that another stage of disaster will happen.

In the meantime, my radiation detector, a Radex RD1503, still returns totally safe values despite my relatively close proximity to Fukushima. (I’m in Tokyo, for those who don’t know.) On any given day, I see between 0.12~0.16 µSv/hr. This is just not a dangerous level. I keep checking, hoping that I don’t see levels indicative that TEPCO has hopelessly messed up its cleanup operations.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

relationship-stressI’ve been reminiscing. Now in my 50s, it’s fair to say that I’ve had a number of relationships in my life. As one might expect, it hasn’t always been pleasant. There is one thing that has been a feature of all my relationships, though, both good and bad: Growth.

What triggered this article was sitting here and thinking how I’ve taken pieces of every relationship I’ve ever been in forward with me through life. Sometimes these pieces are mannerisms. Other times they manifest as expressions or idioms. They could be likes. Even beliefs.

As I look at this collage of experiences, it’s easy to see how each of these individual experiences changed me forever. Whether it be a double Whopper with cheese, anything CCR, Ayurvedic toothpaste and any number of other things that define who I am in this moment, most of it can be attributed to the relationships I’ve had with friends, family and lovers.

When these relationships are bad, it can be extremely painful. In fact, we may want the pain to stop in such an intense way that we wish we could erase that person from our thoughts. The movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, explores exactly that theme. It’s a wonderful movie and well worth watching.

Without going into the the plot of the movie, I’ll just say that I think we should strive to embrace all the aspects of our relationships. Our pain is a reflection of our inability to recognize that the actions of others speak about them and not about us. It is us taking things personally, taking on the emotional baggage of others as our own. In making their stuff about us, we create a very difficult and painful emotional experience.

That experience, however, will change us. In most cases, it will ultimately make us stronger. And in any case, it will leave us forever changed. By embracing the change and accepting how those changes were brought into our life, we can come to appreciate things that may have otherwise been too painful to address. This is a good thing.

I try not to take my relationships too seriously these days. When I experience a flashback to an unresolved issue that brings up uncomfortable feelings, I embrace the experience as an opportunity to understand what made us both tick in that moment. I revel in the chance to understand why he/she may have done whatever and why I reacted in the way I did. We may seldom have control over the actions of others, but we always have control over our actions and reactions.

There have been times in my life when I’ve thought, “I wish we’d never met”. That, however, would have robbed us of the opportunity to learn that our patterns of thought and behaviour created all that we experienced. They always do. So, I’m grateful for all my relationships, especially those that failed. All these years later, I’m still learning from them.

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Wishing There Were A Cure For ….

lightIf you’ve been on a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter for any length of time, you’ll no doubt have seen a tweet, post or meme extolling the virtues of recognizing the plight of any number of illnesses and wishing for a cure. Whether it be cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism or anything else you can imagine, somebody somewhere has posted.

There’s good reason for these posts, too: In the last 20 years, we’ve been inundated with an unimaginable number of new and novel diseases. Diseases that used to be rare are becoming increasingly common. Those of us in our 50s look back on our own childhoods and have a hard time imagining how kids of today could possibly be so sick.

Yesterday, a good friend of mine asked me, “When you were a kid, do you remember a lot of kids in your school having allergy problems?” The shocking fact is that during my entire childhood, I do not remember a single kid being allergic to anything. Nobody was exempt from Phys Ed due to a condition. Nobody carried an inhaler in his/her school bag in case there was an asthma attack. Nobody worried about eating foods because of allergies (although many lunches were traded due to not liking the contents various moms supplied).

What’s more, none of the kids in my schools were obese. Nobody exhibited signs of autism. There were few irregularities at all. One awesome girl always wore a wig, although I never found out (or don’t remember) why. Almost everybody in my schools were ridiculously healthy. When somebody missed more than a day of class, it was big news.

We Need A Cure ….

When we start moving through the decades since I was born in 1961, we see some startling patterns in various illnesses. Cancer is one that hits pretty close to home. I lost my mother to cancer in 2006. In 2009, nearly 30% of Canadians who died did so as a result of cancer. The numbers are getting worse over the years, too: In 1986, 1 in 552 Canadians died from cancer; in 2012, that number when to 1 in 470. The incidence of death from cancer is climbing at a much greater rate than the population is increasing.

So, what about a cure, eh? (Canadian mode engaged.) Medical research is looking, but  a cure for cancer that is safer than the disease itself is still some way off. Finding a cure is all about understanding the cause.

Simultaneous Trends

Cancer is one thing, yes, but there are other issues that are also on the rise. If you want to gain a better picture of the problem domain, look at trends in cancer, autism, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease all during the same period. It shouldn’t be too difficult to get statistics for all diseases that cover, say, from 1980 to 2010. That 30-year spread is of vital importance, as it represents a period that features:

  • The introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) into most processed foods.
  • The introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into many foodstuffs (most unlabelled if you’re in the United States).
  • The introduction of more than 40,000 new and often novel chemicals used in agriculture, manufacturing and food processing, a number of which have been discovered to be endocrine disrupters.
  • The widespread introduction — sometimes fast-tracking — of new vaccines for all manner of common and relatively insignificant illnesses.
  • The shifting towards a more sedentary lifestyle among many, especially students.

Now, I fully realize and respect that correlation does not equal causation. It’s incumbent upon the gentle reader to look at the data and arrive at his/her own conclusions That said, it’s this humble scribe’s opinion that if we really want to find the cause of nearly all these new disease trends, we really need look no further than the following two things:

  1. What products do we use and foods do we eat that cause inflammation?
  2. What products do we use that disrupt our endocrine system signalling?

It’s not difficult to determine what causes inflammation. It’s also easy to figure out which common household products contain endocrine disruptors. Remove those from your life and you’ll be well on the way to removing the illnesses for which you’ve been hoping for a cure. Effectively, you’ll have found the best one: Prevention.

Some other keywords useful for those of you who are dealing with such issues in your own life or with loved ones: Probiotics, Vitamin D3, Sulphur, Selenium, Vitamin K2, Omega Fatty Acids.

Good luck and godspeed.

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Diversity Is Good For You

lotusToday’s message is short and sweet: Get out there and do something different. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you do it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a matter of wearing different eyeliner than you’d usually choose, trying a different dressing on your salad or maybe even listening to a CD that you haven’t heard in ages. Just break out of your habits — even just a little — and experience life anew.

This idea of doing something different was born from my ever-increasing awareness that we’re narrowing and specializing our lives in ways that couldn’t have been imagined even 100 years ago. We sit at our desks for many hours at a time. We eat the same foods, more or less, day after day. We watch the same TV shows, read the same magazines and newspapers. We spend time with the same people over and over again. All this narrowing of focus is detrimental to being a well-rounded human being.

From an intellectual perspective, we only really grow when our viewpoints are challenged. This doesn’t mean getting into arguments over the internet (although it might happen), it means exposing ourselves to contradictory belief systems that cause us to reevaluate our own beliefs. Beliefs are important, but their viability is limited by our (lack of) knowledge. By expanding what we know, we can reevaluate what we think, feel and, ultimately, believe. Free-thinking and debate are powerful medicine in the realm of mind expansion.

From an exercise perspective, we want a wide range of body movements to ensure that all our muscle groups, connective tissues and structural members are sufficiently stressed. Bones need just enough punishment to encourage high density development and to help them remain strong and flexible in our later years. Use it or lose it isn’t just a cute and quaint expression; it’s a fundamental truth of the human physique. We need exercise, and we need all manner of different types of it. It’s great if you go running. It’s not so great if all you ever do for exercise is running. Got it?

From a dietary perspective, we want to take in a wide variety of different meats, vegetables, herbs, spices and fruits. (Note that I did not mention grains. Stay away from those.) The more diversity we have in our diet, the more likely we are to absorb adequate amounts of each of our essential vitamins and nutrients. If we limit our diet, especially narrowing ourselves to processed, fast foods, we can be in the unfortunate situation of being calorie-rich and nutritionally poor.

Finally, from a social perspective, we want to engage many different people. The wider our social circle becomes, the greater our contact base is. Any successful business person or entrepreneur will tell you that it’s who you know that’s important. Having a wide circle of social interaction puts you into contact with people who can/will help bring about opportunities you’d otherwise miss. This doesn’t mean that you should be out partying with people you otherwise don’t like, but just be open to opportunities and they’ll present themselves to you in places and times you wouldn’t expect. Moreover, you’ll develop ever better people skills, which will benefit all your relationships.

I read an article about US farm subsidies and how 96% of crops in the US are comprised of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, sorghum, barley, oats and rice. Fully 96% of the food grown in the States is limited to just 8 crops — most of which are fundamentally bad for your health, too! The subsidies reflect the broader problem of the decreasing availability of seed varieties. No less than 93% of the seeds available in 1903 were extinct only 80 years later in 1983.

This lack of diversity seems to be a pandemic of modern lifestyle. It simply cannot be healthful for us as individuals or as a species. So, get out there and do something different. And try to mix it up in various ways so that you’re doing, thinking, tasting, experiencing something different each and every day. Choice is good. Huge diversity is hugely good.

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Contributions to Global Warming

Photo of the equivalent of "Parks & Rec" in Tokyo clear away growth along the river.

The equivalent of “Parks & Rec” in Tokyo clear away growth along the Tsurumi River. Click for a larger view.

Now that the rainy season has ended in Japan, the parks-and-rec types are out in force to clear away the abundance of overgrowth along rivers and pathways. For some, this represents the equivalent of spring cleaning. For me, however, it points to another symptom of our disconnection from our environment and our need to impart control on the things around us.

As spring progresses, I love witnessing the explosion of growth along the riverside path. Weeds and wildflowers of all imaginable variety abound and bloom. Along with the abundance of greenery comes insects, spiders, bees, wasps, gnats … all the life you’d expect in a thriving ecosystem. Birds are everywhere, singing their songs in beautiful contrast to the background din of cars, trucks and sirens of the city. For me, it is an exciting and beautiful testament to the tenacity of Nature to thrive.

Cut It All Down

It doesn’t take more than a few weeks after the end of the rainy season for the landscape to dramatically shift. Workers comb the various parks and riverside paths to clear away anything that wasn’t planted by humans. And to ensure they only need to visit once this year, everything that doesn’t get yanked is cut back to within an inch of its life. Most of the plants to manage to survive, but some ultimately cannot take the punishment and succumb to being trimmed back so severely.

Photo of overgrowth along the Tsurumi River.

Overgrowth along the Tsurumi River shall not be tolerated. Click for a larger image.

The loss of insect habitats moves the insect populations away from the riverside paths and closer to the dwellings. The birdsong in the following days and weeks is noticeably diminished. It’s a shocking change to be surrounded by lush green on your morning walk to the train station only to face dirt on your way back home. Even after more than 20 years in Japan, I still cannot get used to it. It’s always a shock to my system.

Tokyo is worse for this ‘anti-chaos’ behaviour than many other areas in Japan. Various parks in Kanagawa prefecture are beautifully green. Sure, they get trimmed — and sometimes rather aggressively — but they’re green. In Tokyo, parks generally feature hardpacked sand and cement. The fingerprint of control over chaos is everywhere. Lest anything have a chance to grow of its own accord, Tokyo dresses the environment to discourage unplanned growth as much as possible.

The consequences of these tactics are immediately noticeable for anybody who pays attention. Cutting away a 1.5-metre high canopy to leave dirt and cement exposed to sunlight raises the local temperatures during the day. Cement does a great job of holding the heat, so the environment of these cleared areas becomes significantly warmer. Some paths can expect, in my empirical experience, an increase of 1-2℃.

Urban environments are well documented as being heat attractors. Global warming concerns are being studied by various city planning agencies around the world and many are beginning to draw up plans on how to curb rising temperatures within these greater metropolitan areas. Tokyo, however, is far down the Bell curve in this regard. There is still a strong cultural desire to meld, mould and control the environmental viewing experience.

Until Tokyo learns to relax and let nature grow more freely, it will continue to do more to promote global warming than to prevent it. Canopies of weeds, tall grasses, shrubs (wild or otherwise) and wildflowers all contribute remarkably to reducing temperatures, sequestering CO₂ and controlling soil erosion. They also help manage the water cycle. As Tokyo is entering a near-drought problem with its reservoir levels in 2013, all these ideas are useful for addressing Tokyo’s environmental concerns.

Tokyo? It’s time to stop trimming the verge. kthxbai.

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Food With Integrity

gif_CONTRACTIntegrity is something that I take very seriously. It very literally defines our interactions with others. It goes hand-in-hand with authenticity and, in my opinion, determines the trustworthiness of a person, business or organization.

Restaurants are in an interesting position. Their market positioning can strongly influence whether or not people choose to patronize the establishment. Personally, I go out of my way to look for restaurants that promote environmentally sustainable practices along with healthful ingredients.

Over the last few years, I have found out things about various companies that have given me pause. The first notable event was discovering that Kashi used GMOs in their so-called natural cereals. I felt betrayed to have eaten many a bowlful of their cereals while being completely ignorant of those cereals being, in my opinion, contaminated. The labels did not indicate the presence of genetically engineered ingredients.

Now, I find myself feeling distressed and betrayed once again.

Chipotle: Missing Just A Little Integrity

Chipotle used to be one of my preferred eating establishments in the US due to its “Food With Integrity” promise of being committed to “finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment and the farmers”. When I patronized their restaurants during visits to the States, I was impressed with their image and the promise that the food I was buying was a cut above the average restaurant. Their ingredients made no mention of GMOs. I felt safe.

Fast-forward several years, however, and it appears that food activist Vani Hari outed Chipotle for their use of various GMO ingredients and that restaurant’s true integrity has been called into question. Moreover, I realize that I’ve eaten a lot more genetically engineered foods — yet again — than I otherwise had hoped and expected. Once again, I feel betrayed.

Thanks to Ms. Hari’s efforts to expose misinformation and unworthy practices by major food companies and restaurants, Chipotle and others are now finding themselves forced to come clean about their ingredients. And while there is merit to being honest about Chipotle’s use of GMOs, it’s distressing to me that that honesty only came after their hand was forced. Maybe they need to change their motto to Food With Integrity Whenever Required.

These are all reasons why GMO labelling and truth in advertising must be mandatory, not optional. Informed consent can only happen when people are informed. You can only make real decisions when your data is complete. Analyzing filtered data is useless. In my case, I would have avoided Chipotle had I known they use GMOs. I was never given the opportunity to make that decision. I view a restaurant’s promise of being natural and a list of healthful ingredients as being a contract. At the very least, it is a trust agreement. I feel as though I was misinformed and that the spirit of the contract was broken.

Prop 37 may have failed, but I-522 is still fair game for voters in Washington State. If people can convince one state to make GMO labelling mandatory, many other states will fall in line because of the precedent being set. Let’s keep working to make that happen.

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Fukushima Update: Leaks and the Cost of Clean-up

imagesIn the last few weeks, the owner-operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant complex, TEPCO, was forced to concede that radiation emissions from the plant itself has greatly increased. This would seem to coincide with an upswing of seismic activity in the area. While the temblors have not been of significant strength or duration, it seems plausible that the new ‘quakes have caused existing cracks to seep contaminants into the ocean at a greater pace than before.

Since June, TEPCO has recorded significant spikes in the presence of tritium, caesium-134 and -137, as well as strontium-90. All of these isotopes present significant biological risk at the levels recorded. Tritium levels recorded on July 3, 2013 were 2,300 bequerels/litre, which was the highest ever detected since TEPCO began measuring radiation in the ocean waters in June 2011.

Obviously, things are not going to plan at Fukushima.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga warned TEPCO that they must stop the leak quickly. Economy and Industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi in turn criticized TEPCO for releasing data too slowly. Both comments ring true, but the reality of stopping the leak quickly is a matter of good luck with that. The desire is there, but the technology isn’t. With abundant groundwater contamination in the vicinity of the reactor as well as increased radiation in the adjacent ocean, it’s clear that containment breaches of at least one reactor core has taken place. Radiation doesn’t just come from anywhere, it comes from inside. Given the dramatic increase in radiation levels, it’s reasonable to suspect that we’re seeing more than an increase of coolant leakage.

Decontamination of the surrounding areas has been slow and its effectiveness has been called into question. Indeed, the problem is that the scope of the problem is bigger than anybody has ever had to deal with in the past. Chernobyl is in the ballpark, but its buildings were relatively easy to seal within a cement sarcophagus. Fukushima takes the situation to a whole new realm thanks to complete meltdowns of one or more reactor cores, breached cooling systems and the potential for a direct release of core material into the earth beneath the reactors. Add to that the fact that the site is directly on the Pacific coast and you have a recipe for difficult.

On July 22nd, a group of approximately 100 fishermen gathered to meet with TEPCO officials in a private briefing. The fishermen expressed doubt and anger over TEPCO’s assurances that not much radiation had spread beyond the immediate vicinity of the reactor site. Indeed, if you’re a fisherman who makes his/her livelihood on the ocean, you’re probably intimate with the Oyashio Current and how it will push contaminants south from Fukushima towards Chiba Prefecture, where it will meet the Kuroshio Current and be drawn eastwards towards the central Pacific ocean. Measuring the radiation, therefore, is a matter of looking to the south and being aware of such things as inverse-squared laws. TEPCO suggested drawing lines on the map to delineate safe fishing zones, but the fishermen cautioned that radiation and currents were unlikely to obey the lines on the map.

Finally, experts from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology studied the cost of decontamination for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. They estimated that the total cost of clean-up in Japan could exceed $50 billion. The central Japanese government, meanwhile, has only earmarked some $11 billion in funds for the task. Apparently, the government is optimistic of its success.

Personally, I suspect that even the $50 billion figure is going to prove to be overly optimistic. This nuclear accident goes far beyond any government’s or overseeing body’s experience. The technology to cap and clean up a disaster of this magnitude simply has not been created yet. It could take decades to get a handle on things and make reasonable progress. And all the while, the facility remains a sitting duck for further seismic and tsunami events.

Not the chipper update I was hoping to post. Two-plus years later, things are not looking any better at Fukushima or its surrounding areas.

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